Keating is ignorant, says widow of slain journalist

James Madden | February 04, 2008

THE widow of one of the five journalists killed by the Indonesian military at Balibo in 1975 has labelled Paul Keating “ignorant” for attributing the blame for the murders to “irresponsible” Australian news organisations.

The former prime minister claimed on the weekend the five journalists “were encouraged to report from a war zone by their irresponsible proprietors”, and that in the wake of the incident large sections of the Australian media had wilfully misrepresented Indonesia as part of a “get square” agenda prompted by the Balibo killings.

His inflammatory views emerged just days after he provoked widespread outrage by describing journalist Paddy McGuinness in the days after his death as “a liar and a fraud who in journalistic terms … had the morals of an alleycat”.

Yesterday, Shirley Shackleton, widow of journalist Greg Shackleton, one of the five slain newsmen, said Mr Keating’s comments were “ignorant” and “gutless”.

“He has displayed his total ignorance of what journalists do when they go to report on these
situations,” Ms Shackleton said.

News organisations had not been irresponsible in sending their crews to the war zone, she said. “The Balibo Five were simply doing their job, like any good journalists. But someone like Paul Keating wouldn’t have a clue about it – he does his job from the safety of behind a desk.”

John Milkins, son of Balibo victim Gary Cunningham, said Mr Keating’s comments were “very disappointing”.

“I think it shows that he is very much in the camp of old Labor and Gough Whitlam, in terms of being an apologist (for Indonesia), and for trying to discredit news agencies and their role of keeping politicians honest,” he said.

Kevin Rudd also distanced himself yesterday from Mr Keating’s comments, although he admitted he had not read the article in question.

“The events of ’75 are an absolute disgrace. News organisations are not to blame at all. If Paul said that, I disagree with him, but I haven’t seen what he said,” Mr Rudd said.

Writing for Fairfax newspapers in defence of the reign of former Indonesian president Suharto, Mr Keating said that certain Australian media outlets – most notably the ABC and the Fairfax press – had skewed their coverage of Indonesian affairs as part of a “get square” agenda over Balibo.

“This event (the Balibo murders) was sheeted back to Suharto by journalists of the (Australian) broadsheet press,” he wrote.

“From that moment, in their eyes, Suharto became a cruel and intolerant repressor whose life’s work in saving Indonesia from destruction was to be viewed only through the prism of East Timor.” Mr Keating said media “misrepresentation of the true state of Indonesian social and economic life” had led most Australians to regard Indonesia suspiciously over the past 25 years, despite the fact that “it is evident that Indonesia has been at the fulcrum of our strategic stability”.